This morning I woke up with hopeful exuberance. Ghana turned 56 years old at midnight, and even though the country still has many of the same challenges that it possessed on the eve of independence (and some our ancestors couldn’t have possibly imagined) I opened my eyes and imagined what the country might be in another 56 years. Perhaps in the year 2069 we will have solved our raw sewage problems and routed out corruption? As I typically do when I’m feeling hopeful about Ghana in particular and Africa in general, I called my father. He didn’t pick up when I dialed. I hung up. He called me back in nanoseconds.
My father: Malaka! You called me?
Me: Hey Daddy! Happy 6th March. Happy Independence Day!
Daddy: Sheeeiiit. What kind of independence is this?
Daddy: You should see these fools today. The weather is about one hundred and twelve degrees and they have all these school kids out marching.
Me: (still laughing) Oh chaley. It’s hard oooo.
Daddy: You see stupid Africans? The same foolish things the British used to do to us, they are still doing. How can you force a primary school student to stand in the sun all day to come and salute you? Are they soldiers? They are not soldiers! Why should they march past you and salute you? Me? I never used to do that thing ooo. Kwame Nkrumah used to have this thing…I’ve even forgotten the name…Aha! “Ghana Young Pioneers”. Sheeeiiit. I never used to go for that thing. They said if you don’t march they will beat you in school. I used to skip school and come and collect my caning the next day. I would rather they beat me than go and march for some foolish dictator in the hot sun. I won’t even march past my own house and I should file past you as you sit in the shade? Kwasia! And you – you better not let my kids go and march for any foolish Ghanaian president either!
Me: Yes, Daddy.
Daddy: Nonsense. Today, you will see how many cows they will kill at the castle, meanwhile the common man can’t even get sachet water to buy.
Me: Hmmm. Oh chaley…
Daddy: They are all crooks. I just pray that by the time our grandkids grow up, they can straighten out this mess.
I decide to take a different turn in the conversation. My father was never a Kwame Nkrumah fan. His parents were very critical of Ghana’s first president for his bully tactics at the polls, his jailing citizens without trial, and some fabled silo that never got use but cost thousands of dollars. He does concede that Nkrumah was the only president we’ve had that was focused on development.
Me: Daddy! I hear they are building a place called ‘Hope City’…
Daddy: Tsewww!!! (sucks teeth) Look at more nonsense! What electricity are they going to use to power this thing? And where will they get the water to mix the cement. We have a water shortage in Ghana! And who is going to maintain the lifts? Even Korle Bu hospital that only has 3 floors, the lift is always broken. Imagine if you work on the 98th or 99th floor – well, I don’t know how many floors “the tallest building in Africa will have” – but imagine you work at the top and the lifts are broken! By the time you get to the office, it’s four o’clock and you have to make your way back down the stairs and go home!
He burst into hysterical laughter over the scenario he’d just dreamed up. I was reminded about the building competition between the architects of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. It was called the Race to the Sky. Each architect kept adding floors in order to hold the honor of “highest building in the world”. Construction finally came to an end for both buildings, when the Empire State Building was declared the taller building…until Chrysler added a rod in the spire making it the taller building.
Daddy: Waaa, look! All someone has to do is add a pole on the top of their building and then they will have the tallest building in Africa. A little learning is a dangerous thing!
Me: Isn’t that a song?
Daddy (waxing lyrical): No dummy. It was in one of your literature books from when you were in SOS!
A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.
It means spend more time thinking, and you will become sober minded. The only stupid people are the ones who gain a little bit of knowledge and think they know everything.
Me: Yes, Daddy.
Daddy: I wish I could even Skype you guys, but I can’t. It’s cheaper to use the internet in the evening, but they always cut off the power in the night. They want to kill us here ooo!
Me: It would be nice if they could give you a schedule so you could at least manage your expectations.
Daddy: Exaaactly, Malaka. Exactly! NPP never solved our electricity problem, but at least we knew what time the lights would go off. At least they gave us that courtesy. But these NDC people dierrr…. (He paused. I thought he was at a loss for words. He wasn’t.) A little knowledge is a dangerous thing! Africa is being run by fools!
I told him about a government minister that my friend had been chasing for a project he had to do. The man would stay holed up in his office and refuse to see his appointments until 5:00. He would leave the office every day by 6:00. Finally, my friend finagled a meeting, where – without shame- the minister told him he wasn’t really busy. He just had to give the appearance that he was. In fact, he was pursuing his Master’s degree online during office hours. Between the hours of 9 am and 3 pm, specifically.
Daddy: Waaa look! We are doomed! How can you waste the country’s time like that? How can we progress like this? I’m sure even God Himself is disappointed in creating us. He put us in the CENTER of the earth, gave us all these resources, but we get up in the morning to go and shit in gutters and throw plastic bags in the street for everyone to see. Are we not ashamed?
Me: (I thought he had fallen into despair. I wanted to cheer him) Hmmm. So do you think…
Daddy (urgently): Hei! My credit is finished ooo. I have to hang up. Bye bye!
Me: Wait! I love you. I’ll call you later.
Me: Bye, Daddy.
Gosh I love my dad.